The 25th anniversary of Top Cow's The Darkness takes place next year, and ahead of that Image Comics is publishing a special edition of that famous first issue by writer Garth Ennis and co-writer/artist Marc Silvestri.
The Darkness is a mob hitman named Jackie Estacado who became possessed by an ancient, demonic force known as the Darkness - and after its debut in the mid-'90s, quickly became one of the most popular comic book characters of the era. For Silvestri and his Image imprint Top Cow, Darkness even surpassed his original Image creations Cyber Force to become the new face of Top Cow, alongside Witchblade.
With The Darkness #1 25th Anniversary edition hitting shelves this Wednesday, Newsarama spoke with Silvestri about the character and how it's grown to become a franchise for him and Image Comics. Along the way, Silvestri talks about the two successful games, talk of film and TV adaptations, and even teases a future with more The Darkness comic books in it.
Newsarama: Marc, I read recently that Bernie Wrightson and Frank Frazetta had a huge influence on you as an artist. How did their influence come into creating the Darkness?
Marc Silvestri: Yeah, along with John Buscema those were two early influences for sure. When I was young my mom used to take me to the Art Institute in Chicago and I was always drawn to the more impressionistic artists like Van Gogh but it was a paperback cover of Tarzan done by Frazetta that changed everything. I was around nine or 10 when I saw it and it was the first time I remember being moved by art.
Wrightson came a bit later when I started seeing his stuff in the Warren books then again during his Swamp Thing run. His 'Looking Back' was one of the first art books I ever bought.
Like the Frazetta Tarzan cover, Wrightson's short story 'Muck Monster' was another game-changer for me. His linework on that and his classic Frankenstein just blew me away.
That work, plus taking a deep dive into Franklin Booth and other old school pen and ink illustrators, influenced my current style of using directional lines and cross-hatching to define shapes as well as create depth and mood. I loved sci-fi, fantasy, and horror when I was a kid so Wrightson and Frazetta were strong in my mind when I wanted to create a fantasy/horror comic character decades later.
Nrama: Take us back to January 1st, 1996, when The Darkness #1 first hit shelves. What was going through your head?
Silvestri: Not many people know this, but I came up with the basic concept of the Darkness a few years before we actually started work on it.
Other projects kept moving forward and the concept of a hero with powers that could only work in the dark (essentially a super-powered Dracula without the fangs) got put on a shelf. Top Cow was riding high off the success of Witchblade so the timing was perfect to launch another supernatural character out of it. I loved working with Garth Ennis and I was really excited for our readers to get our take on a truly unique anti-hero. Very exciting times!
Nrama: What were things like at Top Cow Productions at the time? It was only four years old, right?
Silvestri: Those were crazy years of non-stop creativity that I'll always remember fondly. The whole studio was one big gene pool of ideas and it seemed some cool new concept was popping up almost daily. It sounds strange to think about how Top Cow had only been around for such a short amount of time when we debuted the Darkness. We did a lot!
Nrama: Can you recall any surprising reactions to the book, either positive or negative?
Silvestri: The reactions were all positive and the sales were great. It's always gratifying (and a hell of a relief) when you put your heart and soul into something and it lands an audience. I feel really blessed to have worked with such talented people on that book. Folks like Garth, Matt 'Batt' Banning, Steve Firchow, Joe Weems to name just a few.
Nrama: How did you see the future of The Darkness when it came out? Did any of your predictions come true?
Silvestri: Action figures and sculpts came out pretty quickly and they were really, really cool. Clayburn Moore did some amazing work with us on those. Back then, figures and sculptures were attainable so that wasn't such a surprise,
Early on I had hoped for a video game but that seemed a massive long shot so the fact we actually got two A-level Darkness games made surprises me to this day! Still waiting for that movie or TV show but I feel that's going to happen eventually. Been close a couple of times.
Nrama: As you mention, there've been two games based on the Darkness. What do you think of them?
Silvestri: Yep, played the hell out of them! Got my first flat-screen TV just to play the original game when it came out! It was a rare thing back then for a comic company that wasn't Marvel or DC to get a game made so all of us at Top Cow were very proud they got made and the developers for each did an amazing job.
Though different in execution and feel, I thought both games were great and wildly entertaining. I like the visuals and the story of the first one and the game mechanic of the second. People come up to me at shows and talk about how ahead of its time the first game was both in visuals and story. Paul Jenkins, who wrote some great Darkness comics for us, wrote the story for the game and it still hits hard even after all these years.
Nrama: Moving to the present, your original art for The Darkness #3 recently went up for auction at the Give Comics Hope fundraiser, selling for $21,600 - over double the appraised value. Was number three your favorite Darkness cover? Which are you particularly proud of and why?
Silvestri: That's great to hear. It's a terrific cause and hopefully, the cover finds a good home. As for my favorite, I'll always be partial to the #1 cover.
Nrama: There's a 25th-anniversary edition of The Darkness #1 hitting stores on November 18. Will we see any new work from you in it?
Silvestri: Yep, did the cover!
Nrama: Are there currently any plans for you to return to The Darkness? If not, would you go back?
Silvestri: Got big plans for Jackie. He's by far my favorite character and fans always ask me at cons if we're ever going to bring him back in a new series. Stay tuned!
Nrama: What do you hope to see from the future of The Darkness?
Silvestri: As much as possible! Fans have been very patient for Jackie and his Darkness power to return. We haven't even scratched the surface of Jackie's dark world so for everyone that has supported him and Top Cow, Thank you so much and there's lots more to come!